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St. Petersburg Council has scheduled a hearing on Thursday (Oct. 8) on a proposal to increase residential density in Coastal High Hazard Areas (CHHAs). We have serious concerns regarding this proposal. As sea level rise is imminent in the near future, this does not seem like a sane or practical move. It appears that there is pressure from developers to increase density in CHHAs.
Why would St. Petersburg, which is in one of the top 15 cities in the U.S. most vulnerable to sea level rise, want to increase development in its CHHAs? At a minimum, we suggest that the issue be studied as part of the Vision 2050 planning process.
We are urging City Council to delay the vote on this proposal,which seems counter-intuitive. It makes little sense for local leaders to invite more people to live, and more money to be invested, in areas vulnerable to catastrophe and potential climate change rather than building on higher ground.
Here are a few questions that do not seem answered on the City’s online information about this proposal:
1. Design Standards. What are the higher design standards that would apply to increased residential density in CHHAs? How do they compare to current standards in non-CHHAs? Are the current design standards in non-CHHAs adequate as sea levels rise and hurricanes become stronger and more frequent?
2. Neighborhood Impact. In what neighborhoods, besides Carillon, would the increased residential density be permitted? How would the increases in residential development affect biodiversity, water quality, storm water runoff, character and resiliency in the Salt Creek corridor and surrounding neighborhoods including downtown St. Petersburg?
3. Evacuations. How will the additional traffic from increased density affect evacuations for the rest of St. Petersburg in the event that they become necessary?
4. Infrastructure. The decision to increase density anywhere in St. Petersburg will have an impact on the City overall, not just the 41 percent within the CHHA. The investment needed to increase the capacity of current and planned infrastructure to handle the proposed density is reason enough to wait. Should not the impact on infrastructure of increased density be considered holistically?
5. Vetting by Emergency Management and Transportation Agencies. Has this proposal been vetted by the Pinellas County Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)? Has the potential impact of this proposal been vetted by City and Regional transportation agencies including TBARTA?
6. Vetting by the TBRPC. As per the Tampa Bay Regional Resilience Coalition (TBRPC) website (http://www.tbrpc.org/resiliency), “This collaboration strengthens our region’s ability to plan for the changing climate; reduce impacts and secure increased federal funding to support resilient infrastructure improvements; adaptation and mitigation programs that protect our communities, properties, and economies.” Has this proposal been evaluated by the TBRPC, which is comprised of members from six adjacent counties and 21 municipalities that come together to discuss complex regional issues, develop strategic regional responses for resolving them, and build consensus for setting and accomplishing regional goals?
7. Sinking Cities. FEMA maps for 2100 and the Phoenix simulation of a Category 5 Storm crossing St. Petersburg show the City becoming an island. Many coastal cities are sinking in the world and the United States, among them, Charleston and Miami. There is some speculation by scientists that the sinking of Miami and Charleston is due in large part to overbuilding. Have any studies been done to evaluate if St. Petersburg has sunk at all, and the potential to do so in the near future? Wouldn’t the increase in density in CHHAs accelerate this?
8. Affordable Housing and Gentrification. This proposal is being sold as a way to create more affordable housing and to prevent gentrification in South St. Petersburg. Are there any guarantees that will accomplish either goal? There are still other areas of St. Petersburg that are appropriate for higher density, e.g., along 34th Street North and South, and potentially where I-375 is located, if it were torn down.
9. Overbuilding. St Petersburg is already almost fully developed. There is not much more room for new building, resulting in pressure to “build-up.” How will this proposal affect the character and quality of life in St. Petersburg? At some point, will St. Petersburg be virtually all “built-out”? Will overbuilding and lack of affordable housing discourage the artists, small businesses and entrepreneurs from staying and locating here? Do we want St. Petersburg to end up like Ft. Lauderdale?
10. Tall Buildings. Not only are tall buildings at risk to greater wind and hurricane damage, but they create a canyon effect casting long shadows over neighboring properties, bicycle riders, and walkers. Shouldn’t St Petersburg be moving toward moderate-size buildings, especially in coastal areas?
11. Climate Change Concerns. As climate change is becoming a serious and potentially damaging threat to St. Petersburg, should not changes and current land use development policy consider the potential for how development in the CHHAs could be impacted by this?
In conclusion, we urge the members of City Council to wait to consider the broader picture of any additional development policy in the Vision 2050 process. At a minimum, we urge Council to exclude downtown St. Petersburg and the neighborhoods in a three-mile radius of Salt Creek from the increased residential density. Another option would be to limit the provisions to one small area on a temporary trial basis. Yet another option would be to require that a large percentage of any new residential buildings with more than 10 units be dedicated to affordable housing.
This article was co-authored by Margaret Zak